Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Did the Gra predict 2012, or 1840?!

The Cosmic Clock?
Summary: Debunking the popular 'cosmic clock' theory, according to the Gra.

Post: A little while back -- I wrote most of this post back on June 14th -- some Jewish mystics were in line with Harold Camping's first (or rather, second) predicted apocalypse date of May 21, 2011. Thus:
According to the Gra, the Vilna Gaon, one of the ways he taught (or rather wrote down, it wasn’t really to be shared) to calculate the ketz on it being “before it’s time in it’s time” gives an “early” date of the 17th of Iyar, 5771 and a “late” date of Rosh Chodesh Av, 5771.
I've read that they really just said 'spring', and people then latched on to the strange Christian sect's date as the prediction spread like wildfire. What about Rosh Chodesh Av of 5771?

Well, the recent -- now fairly old -- post at Yeranen Yaakov makes it a bit clearer how this date came to be. Let me make absolutely clear at the outset that this is NOT yaak speaking. Rather, he is presenting the interpretations of Rabbi Yekusiel Fish.
We found in the Zohar (Va'et'hanan 270a):

   "אוֹי לָנוּ כִּי פָנָה הַיּוֹם כִּי יִנָּטוּ צִלְלֵי עָרֶב", יוֹם וְצֵל הוּא סוֹף גָּלוּתָא, וְשִׁיעוּרָא דְּהַאי צֵל שִׁית קְמָצִין וּפַלְגָּא.

Similar to this, we also found the Zohar (Vayikra 16a):

וְדָא בְּגָלוּתָא בַּתְרָאָה הוּא כְּהַאי אֶרֶז דְּאֶתְעַכֵּב לְסַלְּקָאָה, וּמִשַּׁעְתָּא דִּסְלִיק עַד דְּקָאִים בְּקִיּוּמֵיהּ הוּא יוֹמָא וְשִׁירוּתָא יוֹמָא אַחֲרִינָא עַד דְּעָבִיד צֵל בִּנְהוֹרָא דִּימָמָא.

The Gr"a explains there, "It means to say that 1000 years of the Galut and another half of the day until one half hour after Hatzot because then, the sun starts to set." And similarly explained the Matok Midevash, "שית קמצין ופלגא means 6½ hours on the 6th day, since then, it is recognizable that the shadow bent toward the West. And if we divide the sixth millennium into 24 hours, and multiply by 18.5, we get to the end of Tammuz, 5771, upon which the Zohar says in 2 places is the end of the exile.
And naturally, if the last date is the end of Tammuz, then it must come at the very, very latest, on the next day, Rosh Chodesh Av!

See the Zohar on Vayikra here -- the capital letters as explanatory interpolations into the text:

267. In the last exile, THE HOLY ONE, BLESSED BE HE, is like a cedar that is slow to FLOURISH AND grow. From the time it starts growing until it is mature - NAMELY, UNTIL REDEMPTION COMES - a day passes; NAMELY THE DAY OF THE HOLY ONE, BLESSED BE HE, WHICH IS A THOUSAND YEARS LONG. And the beginning of the second day, until it throws a shadow in the daylight - NAMELY, AFTER MIDDAY WHEN THE SUN BEGINS TO DECLINE - WHICH, IN THE DAY OF THE HOLY ONE, BLESSED BE HE, LASTS 500 YEARS. AFTER 1,500 YEARS, REDEMPTION WILL COME. And the cedar grows only when supplied with water, as it says, "Like cedar trees beside the waters" (Bemidbar 24:6) so "he grows like a cedar in Lebanon," whence, FROM LEBANON, WHICH IS CHOCHMAH, a source of water and a river - WHICH IS BINAH - issues to water THE CEDAR. The cedar is the Holy One, blessed be He, ZEIR ANPIN, WHICH RECEIVES THE WATER, as written, "Excellent as the cedars."

Note that in the presentation at Yerenen Yaakov, all that is attributed to the Gra is:
"It means to say that 1000 years of the Galut and another half of the day until one half hour after Hatzot because then, the sun starts to set."
The rest is from Matok Midvash, a different author, I think Rabbi Daniel Frisch. Though that is formed from a collection of earlier, well-known commentators.

The reason that it is important to note that is that part of this commentary is the part I will now bold and mark in red:
"שית קמצין ופלגא means 6½ hours on the 6th day, since then, it is recognizable that the shadow bent toward the West. And if we divide the sixth millennium into 24 hours, and multiply by 18.5, we get to the end of Tammuz, 5771, upon which the Zohar says in 2 places is the end of the exile.
The Gra never said it was speaking of the 6th millennium. This assumes a start date of the beginning of the millennium. But we are talking about the length of the exile. The Gra may very well assume a start date of the destruction of the second Bet Hamikdash. Indeed, he does, and I will try to prove this to you.

Let us perform the same calculations as above. 1000 years + [(1000/24) * 18.5] = 1770.833.

So, if we start at the beginning of the fifth millennium, 4000, then 4000 + 1770.833 = 5770.833. And add a year because we start with the year 1, not 0. Thus, we get to the appropriate date in Tammuz.

As to why we should start specifically in the fifth millennium, even though the Zohar is talking about the length of the entire exile, I am sure someone has a ready teretz.

However, we know that the Gra and his talmidim expected mashiach to arrive in 1840. They went to Eretz Yisrael. And there was a great churban in 1840 when mashiach did not arrive, with many people converting to Christianity.

1840 - 1770.833 = 69.166

Did anything happen in 69 or 70 CE? How about the destruction of Yerushalayim and the Bet HaMikdash? Does this strike you as a good candidate for the length of the exile? It certainly does to me.

So what it seems is that the Gra's calculation failed -- miserably, and with horrific results. But people are rescuing it and reinterpreting it, and attributing their recalculations to the Gra. And even if you say it was not a failure, per se, but rather an important step along the way, it should be fairly clear that this was the Gra's calculated ketz; if both interpretations (length of the galut vs. counting from a random millennium) were equally likely, it does not seem to be coincidence that using the Gra's calculated number of years, it brings us from the Churban directly to the most well-known ketz of the Gra. The metzius supports me.

Now, one can make a counterargument in favor of a millennial interpretation. For instance, yaak wrote me (in a private correspondence):
The six "days" correspond to the six thousand years.  It obviously starts from the beginning of the millennium as that's when the "day" starts - not at the Hurban.
I pointed out that it is not at all obvious. First, (a) because of the metzius that the Gra's talmidim believed in a 1840 ketz. But secondly, and more importantly, (b) nthe plain sense of the words of the Zohar, וּמִשַּׁעְתָּא דִּסְלִיק עַד דְּקָאִים בְּקִיּוּמֵיהּ -- from the time that it leaves, meaning the Churban; and this as a measure of וְדָא בְּגָלוּתָא בַּתְרָאָה הוּא כְּהַאי אֶרֶז דְּאֶתְעַכֵּב לְסַלְּקָאָה; and (c) that if it were just a certain number of years into the millennium, why mention the first thousand?! Either say five days plus shade, or say simply shade. The day of day + shade 'obviously' accounts for something, not just a random millennial start.

(d) Yes, one can posit that this is the start of the 'two millennia of mashiach'. But that is not what the Gra explicitly says:
וְרוֹצֶה לוֹמַר אֶלֶף שָׁנָה
שֶׁל הַגָּלוּת, וְעוֹד חֲצִי הַיּוֹם עַד חֲצִי
שָׁעָה אַחַר חֲצוֹת, שֶׁאָז מַתְחִיל
הַיּוֹם לְהַעֲרִיב.
Or, in English:
"It means to say that 1000 years of the Galut and another half of the day until one half hour after Hatzot because then, the sun starts to set."
Not 1000 years of the sixth millennium, but 1000 years of the Galut. It seems that he is counting from the Churban.

Now, despite this, the first-mentioned Zohar, in Vaeschanan, might be taken to imply that the calculation is from the beginning of the millenium, rather than the time of the Churban. It reads -- the capital letters as explanatory interpolations into the text (from the folks at the cultish Kabbalah Center):

188. Once a shadow started to form at the beginning of the other day AFTER THE FIFTH MILLENNIUM, as during the time when the Temple was destroyed when the shadow was about to be gathered, THAT IS, JUST LIKE DURING THE DESTRUCTION OF THE TEMPLE WAS WHEN THE SHADOW BEGAN TO BE GATHERED, SO WILL REDEMPTION COME WHEN THE SHADOW WILL BEGIN TO EMERGE. WHEN THERE WILL BE day and shadow, it will be the end of exile. The measure of that shadow is six thumbs long for the height of a man among men, NAMELY, AN AVERAGE PERSON. This secret is remembered among the friends through the verse, "for we are but of yesterday, and know nothing, because our days upon earth are a shadow" (Iyov 8:9). "for we are but of yesterday," namely in exile; "and know nothing, because our days upon earth are a shadow," which means the Holy One, blessed be He, wants the shadow and day to rest upon the earth.

Thus, ומדשארי צל למעבד בשירותא דיומא אחרא can be rendered as "once the shadow starts to form at the beginning of the last/other day", meaning that it is the last 'day' or millennium of the world's existence. 

But one is not at all compelled to render it in this manner. אחרא means 'latter'. They knew of two days. The first 'day', or thousand years, of exile since the Churban already passed. And now we are into the second 'day', or thousand years, of exile.

And indeed, the very next phrase is:
כמה בזמנה דאתחריב מקדשה הוה
Thus, the very continuation of the phrase brings in the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash.


Now, 1840 has already passed. Doesn't that mean that this could NOT be the correct interpretation of the Zohar? Absolutely not. We see from the gemara that various Tannaim and Amoraim predicted the ketz, and they were wrong. Why should Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, another Tannai, be any different? Not that he must be wrong, but he could be wrong. And further, this is not the only ketz prediction in the Zohar. There are actually a whole bunch of them, which have already passed. And if you want to say that something meaningful happened in 1840, since the Gra's talmidim began the process of modern settlement of Israel, and thus the beginning of the Geulah, you can say that. And you can also say the gemara in Sanhedrin 97b has already said:
Rav said: All the predestined dates [for redemption] have passed, and the matter [now] depends only on repentance and good deeds.
And the Lubavitcher Rebbe popularized this as well, adding that 
"For so many years have passed since all the predestined times have passed,"
If so, it is not the end of the world (pun intended) that this is one of the predestined times which have passed. We don't need to re-manufacture one of the predestined times which have already passed.

And if we do -- believing this is the correct meaning of the Zohar -- we should not falsely and erroneously attribute this view to the Vilna Gaon!


yaak said...

Regardless of what the Gra said, the idea of adding a day plus the day until minha gedola starting from the year 5000 based on this Zohar is not new.

I mentioned this idea here and here and quoted the Mikdash Melech who says this, but uses 12-hour days instead of 24-hour days. See the Hatam Sofer's question on the Ramban as to why a 24-hour day is preferred.

See also Rav Fish Part 7 in the paragraph that begins "(See the book...".

joshwaxman said...

Wow, a lot of stuff to slog through...

I'm sure (and was sure -- I think we we discussed this back in June) that there are OTHER kabbalists who may have interpreted the Zohar in this way. But they are not the Gra. The Gra has more name recognition, and might well have been a much 'better' kabbalist than many of these others. (Though I'd have to consider what each of these others said, in context. Are they talking about dividing millennia in general, or about this Zohar in particular?)

Also, it makes me question the bona fides of kabbalistic 'experts' who read this into the Gra. I mean, I am an am ha'aretz when it comes to kabbalah, though I am pretty handy when it comes to correctly interpreting sources, especially in light of historical evidence. So what am I to make of proclaimed kabbalistic experts who attribute this to the Gra?

It reminds me of the stomach-ache vs. fever metaphor of Rabbi Yaakov Hillel, about testing a kabbalist. I won't name names in this comment about who, specifically, appear to be amaratzim, but it seems that they are leading the people in this recent nonsense. the lunatics are running the asylum.

yaak said...

The Mikdash Melech is speaking about this Zohar in particular. I have not seen the sources that Rav Fish quotes (the Yosher Levav and Darchei Noam) inside that he claims also refer to this Zohar in particular.

The Hatam Sofer is referring to dividing millenia in general.

joshwaxman said...

Ultimately, though, I find the Gra's reading (as per my reading, and that of the talmidei Hagra) of the Zohar the most convincing. I think he was right. (And you think he was right, in predicting 1840 as one of the keitzes.)

Any text, and particularly ketz-texts, will give rise to many, many interpretations. And it seems to me more difficult to say that X's interpretation of Zohar and Y's interpretation of the same passage of Zohar both stand as legitimate ketzim. This is not the same as interpreting various pesukim in Nach. Rashbi only intended one thing.

Devorah said...

I'm skipping over all the technical stuff, and just saying that on Rosh Chodesh Av 5771 EVERYTHING CHANGED.

And in case you hadn't noticed, it's getting a lot worse now.... financial crisis 2.0, share market, Occupy Wall St..... it's intensifying.... and so is the escalation against Israel [all the nations against Israel = Gog and Magog]

So I reckon we're on track for 2012...

And btw what does amaratzim mean?

joshwaxman said...

i think one could have made a similar claim for any date in the past four years, so i don't buy it.

but we'll see what happens.

(amaratzim is the Yiddishized plural of Hebrew am ha'aretz.)

Unknown said...


You are correct that 1840 was predicted as one of the keitzes of the GR"A. This is a staged Geulah and he says so himself in many places. His student Rav Mishkelov was in Eretz Yisrael and writes in the famous book Kol HaTor how the cosmic clock works. Rav speaks about this or at least eludes to this in many places. We know this is process and the cosmic clock of the Gra and from the Ramban in Bereishit fits very closely to the unfolding process. I think your hang up is pointing to specific dates where as those dates are only seen many years later as significant. I suggest to read Kol HaTor carefully and you'll see it is more complex and robust as a working theory than you think.

Unknown said...

One more thing. When I say 1840 was on of the Keitzes it mean in the eyes of the Gr"A and Rav Kook and of ourse others that it si an end to a shlav as Rav Mishkelov explains. He calls them footsteps of Moshiach Ben Yosef.

גילוי said...

Josh, chatima tova.

Please keep in mind the GR"A's overall shita with internal consistency. See Zohar Vayera where it speaks of כל היום דוה, and also the intro to the Tikkunei Zohar page 4 with the GR"A in regards to the 1290 years of Daniel. Though I haven't studied in depth, I believe the expectations for 5600 were only from the statement in Zohar Vayera regarding 600 years in the sixth millennium.

joshwaxman said...

Israel Rising:

This has nothing to do with 'stages'. This has to do with the meaning of a **specific Zohar** or two, as interpreted by the Gra. This might well have been the last stage, or an early stage.


I am not going to go questing. Please tell me, or summarize, what they say. (Yes, the Gra elsewhere, as described in Kol HaTor, makes calculations based on the millennium and not based on the years from the destruction. Yaak mentioned that precise point to me back in June, in private communication. That does not mean that he must be internally consistent, such that EVERY kabbalistic, Zoharic source must be read in that way. Rather, look at the words of the Zohar and see what they best support, and look at the words of the Gra, and see what their clear implication is! This does not introduce an 'inconsistency'. In general, where the Zohar supports it, make calculations based on the millennium. In specific places, where the Zohar does NOT support it, but supports a churban-based calculation, make calculations based on that.)

גילוי said...

Hi Josh. I thought I replied before, so if this is a repeat, please dispose of one.

http://www.hebrew.grimoar.cz/zohar/tikune_zohar.htm 4b starting w מיד דאסתלקו



Search for כל היום דוה

The issue of hours of the sixth day can be found in the fifth chapter of the Sifra ditzniuta in the GR"A's commentary, culminating in how he says to find out the keitz. Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Chaver confirms in his commentary on Shas that the the intent is to the gemara in Sanhedrin 38b.

The Tikkunei Zohar that I mention above explains how the 1290 in Daniel goes from Churban Bayit Sheini, lich'ora, to the beginning of the 6th millennium. That would require et hussar hatamid to be 3829 - 18, so it is really Churban plus 1272. The GR"A and Matok miDvash confirm that calculation. The Zohar on kol hayom dava basically says that we ignore the end of the 4th millennium, we have one full "day" without the Mikdash, and then the "dawn" is at the beginning of the sixth.

joshwaxman said...

I'll try to make heads or tails out of it.

But let me put it this way. There certainly is ONE prediction of 5600, from Zohar Vayera.

Now, from what seems like the most straightforward interpretation of both the Zohar and the Gra's commentary on the Zohar, we also arrive at precisely 5600. Yes, people can, and have, kvetched, almost every single possible date, but I did not do any kvetching here. Really. What are the odds that it would work out precisely to the same date?

Attempted analysis of your points in a separate comment.

גילוי said...

I appreciate your atttempt to get at this straight and without bias. Definitely finding multiple sources in a text that seem to point at the same meaning backs it up. This is why I have written much of what I have written on my blog.

But it is not exact. The 5600 in the Zohar is likely 5601. The Tikkunei Zohar I reference talks about 1272 from Churban. This implies a Churban date of 3828, which is without shnat tohu. This would imply that this count is not in use in the Zohar, though I do not have numerous sources to point you to in order to back this assertion up.

joshwaxman said...

In terms of my analysis, here is the story -- I don't really WANT to analyze and perform all sorts of calculations. Calculations are extremely messy and subjective. Yes, subjective. (For instance, I consider this post of yours to be quite subjective. Who says nothing happened in 850 CE? What about: "However, starting around 850 CE the decline of the Babylonian Jewish community set in and was accompanied by – if not caused by – a period of terrible divisiveness, as we discussed previously." Or the rise of discriminatory laws against Jews by Caliph Matawakkil? And who says that the particular calculation in the Zohar has to have been a *correct* one, where they are arguing with one another?)

And confusing, in which one can pass forth all sorts of nonsense. And where one makes a leap based on one text which forces a reinterpretation of another text.

Why should we assume that the Gra on that Tikkunei Zohar, or in the Gra on Sifra de-Tzniusa, MUST be reconciled with what he says in Zohar VaEschanan and Zohar Vayikra? Even within the Zohar itself there are multiple divergent calculations of the Ketz -- I have heard that there are NINE times in all.

"The Zohar on kol hayom dava basically says that we ignore..."
I looked at that Zohar, to be precise, in the section above 'kol hayom dava', and I see that that is the plain reading of Rabbi Yehuda, that we start from the millennium, ignoring the preceding partial millennium. Though Rabbi Yossi argues. If we are discarding the partial millennium anyway, then why should it matter if we start counting from the Churban or 20 years previous?

All I can see are messy calculations and suppositions. I looked at that linked Gra, but don't see what you see (or I think you see). It could well be because I have not delved deeply enough. But I have not seen anything solid.

joshwaxman said...

"But it is not exact. The 5600 in the Zohar is likely 5601."

But the Zohar Vayera is the only source for 5600, then why did the talmidei haGra assume 1840 and not 1841? (It is possible that they erred in the matter you mention, or that the Gra erred.)

Anyway, if it means 5601, so does the Zohar in VaEschanan and Vayikra. 1841 - 1770.833 = 70.166, which is the year of the Churban.

גילוי said...

Josh, please consider the following. You said that you trust the interpretations of the GR"A's students, I hope this includes Rav Chaver.

In chapter five of Sifra ditzniuta, the GR"A discusses the parallel between the six days and the six thousand years. He says it all goes according to the days and the hours. Rav Chaver says the meaning is the hours listed in Sanhedrin (in Afikei Yam). In Pitchei Shearim he explains the process in great detail, quoting the GR"A's commentary to Sifra diTzniuta. The kabbalistic idea of the birth of the 2 moshiachs occurs after the Nesira, which can be easily taken to mean at least the 7th hour, beginning in 5751.

Rav Chaver passed away after 5600.

joshwaxman said...

First, I trust the Gra's explicit comment on a specific Zohar much more than a statement by the Gra's student in a separate place.

Second, I can **also** agree that the gemara in Sanhedrin 38b refers to hours meaning portions of millennia. That gemara reads:
R. Johanan3 b. Hanina said: The day consisted of twelve hours. In the first hour, his [Adam's] dust was gathered; in the second, it was kneaded into a shapeless mass. In the third, his limbs were shaped;4 in the fourth, a soul was infused into him; in the fifth, he arose and stood on his feet; in the sixth, he gave [the animals] their names; in the seventh, Eve became his mate; in the eighth, they ascended to bed as two and descended as four;5 in the ninth, he was commanded not to eat of the tree, in the tenth, he sinned; in the eleventh, he was tried, and in the twelfth he was expelled [from Eden] and departed, for it is written, Man abideth6 not in honour.7

That is very different from saying that the Zohar (not the gemara in Sanhedrin) in a specific place or two, Vaeschanan and Vayikra, is referring to 24 hour days (not 12), and that the span is to thousands of years of exile, rather than to millennia.

It is like pointing out in one place that Rashi says 'ain na ela leshon bakasha', and then rejecting Rashi's (almost)explicit words in Bereishit 12:11 that the 'na' there means 'now' rather than 'please'.

I have no problem saying that the Gra, in the general case, maintains a connection between hours and millennia.

Anonymous said...

Hi Josh,
Are there any online articles, or other in print materials which discusses the conversion of some of the students of the Gra as a result of mashiach not coming in the year 1840? Thanks!

joshwaxman said...

I'll see what I can find, bli neder, but this is what a quick google seach yielded:


Not the same, of course...

joshwaxman said...

Here is one such reference: to two rabbis, Eliezer Luria and Binyamin Goldberg, as well as three rank and file members of the community, being baptized in 1843. Luria became a missionary.


joshwaxman said...

on pg 256 in the same book (though i can't see the text upon which the footnote is based), missionaries discuss 36 candidates for conversion in Jerusalem. these might just be candidates.

joshwaxman said...

another reference:

Anonymous said...

Hi Josh,

Thank you for the references - I will research them.
Kol tuv,


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